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In Memoriam: KT Barnabus
Editor’s Note: Readers of the Mid-South Horse Review may recall seeing numerous photos throughout the years of KT Barnabus, aka Barney, with his driver and rider Laura Shifflette Lawson. He was even on the cover of our July 2021 issue. He was a fan favorite at the Germantown Charity Horse Shows (GCHS) and the Nashoba Carriage Classic, as well as beloved by the folks at WarHorses for Heroes. At every show, Barney performed flawlessly with his “steady-as-she-goes” demeanor and his willing work ethic. He was so versatile: dressed in his finest he could win concours d'elegance in pleasure driving, and then turn on the speed and agility to win the Carriage Gambler’s Choice; he was a sidesaddle winner; and was gentle and steady toting veterans about the arena to display the flag at the GCHS Opening Ceremony. His latest success was winning the Carriage Dog Class, with Corgi Ernest Tea riding beside Laura. Whatever the task at hand, he did it well.
Laura had to say goodbye to Barney on January 5, 2022, and here she tells how he came to live in the mid-south and hone his diverse career.
In 2010, Ken and Chrissy Daniels, with friends Pam (Gamble) Anderson and Jamie Sturgeon, hauled a carriage to Raber Buggy Shop in Montgomery, Indiana for repairs. The spring horse auction was underway, and while they waited for their carriage, they went to look at the horses for sale, even though they weren’t planning on buying a horse. But when they learned that Barney, the beautiful bay Amish plow horse, was destined for the kill truck, they had to save him. And because no good deed goes unpunished, he refused to load onto the trailer after they rescued him. In those hours of frustration, he lovingly earned his nickname “KT,” short for “Kill Truck.”
I drove Barney in downtown carriages in Memphis starting Elvis Week (August) of 2012. He and I spent so much time together over the next five years driving around downtown that he was more than just a co-worker, he was my best friend. I am so grateful for the amount of trust he gave me. No matter what I asked, he never told me no. Barney was an incredibly smart horse, so he would question me if I was SURE I was sure.When he would swing his head to look backwards at me, I could hear him asking me, “WOMAN! Are you even driving back there?”
One could also say that his ability to parallel park on Union Avenue at the Peabody Hotel was unparalleled. (pun intended)
After his humble Amish beginnings, Barney enjoyed the finer things in life in the mid-south. He went through the McDonald’s drive-through at I-240 and Union Avenue once and ordered two apple pies. We worked longer hours on Saturdays, so we would share a box of Dunkin’ Donut Munchkins to keep morale up (he preferred the jelly-filled munchkins). To help him adjust to the Memphis heat, he had an extra stout Guinness every night for an entire summer. He also demanded that water come from only HIS bucket off his Cinderella carriage. Once we were at Hutchison School for Girls giving rides and we didn’t put the correct bucket on the carriage. So the girls shared their popsicles with him to encourage him to drink. The next year when we came back, they remembered and had popsicles ready!
At the 2016 Germantown Charity Horse Show, my now-husband Phillip Lawson gave me a new halter for Barney. On the left side, it had his KT Barnabus nameplate. I was so enthralled by the PS of Sweden halter, I didn’t even notice there was a nameplate on the right cheek asking “Mrs. Lawson?” until Phillip pointed it out to me.
When Phillip and I got married in May of 2017, Barney didn’t come to our wedding, but I was proud of him for not caring about the wedding dress and its mountain of tulle when we took pictures with him afterwards.
In August of 2016 Barney retired from downtown life to live at Oak View Stables in Olive Branch, Miss. Chrissy and Ken have a farm in Millington, TN where their retired downtown horses live, and they very generously gave him to me. Barney thrived in the world of pleasure driving under the tutelage of Joanna Wilburn. He loved and excelled at cones: he knew how to look for the next obstacle, and for such a big horse, he tried his best to be quick on his feet. We learned the value of driving our speed courses like a hunter round: bigger turns in order to keep a steady pace. During our “flat class” lessons with Joanna, he would get bored and constantly walk out of his slow trot. But he absolutely knew when he was competing; you could tell him to Easy Trot, and he would have this perfect, bouncy slow trot that never wavered (which is not easy in deep rings). And bless his heart, Barney didn’t understand riding under-saddle, but he indulged me. Sidesaddle came very easily to him. Since he didn’t understand the concept of “leg,” he didn’t care that one side was missing.
Barney socially distanced before it was a must during the pandemic. He didn’t particularly care for the company of other horses; my theory is that he thought he was too intelligent to hang around them.
So, he preferred to make his own adventures. He loved to jailbreak. He took such great pride in breaking out of the gelding’s field, that he did it twice. We still have no clue how he got out of the gate, but he walked down Looney Road, let himself in through back of the barn, and he was found in his stall the next morning waiting for breakfast. He got loose on the Germantown Charity Horse Show grounds when he learned how the handles on their stalls work. At home, if his top stall door wasn’t latched, he would let himself out and then try to get his neighbors in trouble by breaking them out, too. Fortunately for us, he loved being inside, so at least he never wandered too far in his adventures.
I know everyone thinks their horse is perfect, but Barney was absolute perfection. He was such a great ambassador to the sport of carriage driving with his patience, bravery, and reliability. He would work with Warhorses for Heroes, and I’m told he had a huge following at the Veterans Administration because he was so big, yet so gentle with everyone.
Some of the best moments Barney gave me were when I wasn’t driving or riding him. I was such a proud horse-mom when he and Kayla Benson won their first GCHS Junior Driving Championship in 2018, and I was extra proud when they repeated that win the next year. Brooke Ballenger competed with him in the Sidesaddle classes at the 2017 GCHS, and also demonstrated with him at the Horse Fair that September.
He really did have the biggest heart, and always gave everything he could for his people. Barney shared his light with everyone he met, and I’m just so blessed that I had him in my life.
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